Randy Weston African Rhythms Duo

May 29, 2010 concert reviewed by Ronald K. Baker.

Randy Weston at the Berkshire Museum May 29, 2010.Chalk up another stellar concert organized by, presented in an intimate, perfect venue – the Berkshire Museum’s Little Cinema auditorium. The museum’s 9-foot Steinway Grande piano got a good workout courtesy of the power and technique of the towering artist, Randy Weston, as he played his African Rhythms concert along with bass player, Alex Blake.

(Watch a video clip from the concert at

By way of introduction, Mr. Weston spoke of the spirit as being the foundation of all his music. Music is everywhere in nature, he said, and nowhere is that spirit more evident than it is in Africa. The concert opened with Blue Moses, a Moroccan piece that set the tone for the rest of the evening. After a free-flowing introduction, the bass came in and joined Weston’s thundering octaves and fifths as he milked the low range of the piano.

Alex Blake in concert at the Berkshire Museum, May 29, 2010.It turns out that bassist Alex Blake is a percussion section unto himself. His dominant foot stomping was tireless, commanding, and engaging. Against this obstinate continuum, he provided a mix of elemental drum sounds through a range of dazzling techniques. Subtle bongo sounds rippled from the fingers of his left hand tapping gently on the neck of his instrument. Louder accents and percussive pops sprang from the palm of his right hand as he slapped here and there along the entire length of the fingerboard. For the most exclamatory, he’d pluck the lowest string with such force that it created a resounding whack akin to the crack of a whip.

While accompanying Weston, Blake proved himself a repository of provocative rhythms, often strumming the bass as though it were a guitar. He coupled this technique along with double and triple stops in order to create chords, most notably in his solos. And he had one more trick up his sleeve, both figuratively and literally. He wore a smooth metal bracelet on his right wrist. Whenever he wanted a loud smack to punctuate a phrase, he would slap the lower part of the fingerboard with the bracelet simulating a rim shot on a snare drum. It clearly was yeoman’s duty, and, as Weston gazed at him bemused, the array of sounds Blake achieved was masterful. He threw himself bodily into each piece like a whirling dervish with an intensity that left him visibly winded. The audience erupted repeatedly into spontaneous applause.

Randy Weston’s playing seemed effortless in contrast; he was the picture of coolness in his understated, gray silk shirt, matching kufi cap, black slacks and wingtips sans socks. He was gracious guide introducing each work along with some tidbits of history of African music as well as of slavery. His compositions – exotic voyages – contrasted delicate, evocative passages with explosive fortissimos that filled the hall. Overall, his style recalls Ahmad Jamal more than it does Oscar Peterson.

But since his pieces are largely bereft of repeated melodies, his improvisations rarely drew applause, as even some of the hippest jazz listeners seemed scarcely able to discern the divergence of theme from variation. No matter. It made for rapt attention. And judging from his own appreciative smiles and self-effacing demeanor, Randy Weston probably would have considered clapping an unnecessary distraction anyway.


Bob Dylan cancels China tour

Here’s a fresh take on why Bob Dylan will not be playing in China this spring:


Dave Brubeck and Berkshires Jazz Youth Ensemble

Oct. 17, 2009 performance reviewed by Dave Conlin Read.

Dave Brubeck in rehearsal with Berkshires Jazz Youth EnsembleThe Dave Brubeck Quartet recorded the first million-selling jazz album fifty years ago, Time Out, which features Take Five and its unusual 5/4 time signature, and with Mr.Brubeck approaching his 89th birthday, which he’ll celebrate Dec. 6th at the White House while receiving the 2009 Kennedy Center honors, time has prominence in any Brubeck report. Now, and for a long time to come, hundreds of people will be remembering the time they heard the Dave Brubeck Quartet in a sold-out concert at the Colonial Theatre in Pittsfield, including 18 kids who can tell about the time Dave Brubeck sat in with them on “Take the A Train.”

The concert began with a teriffic set of mostly Duke Ellington compostions played by the Berkshires Youth Jazz Ensemble, 17 Berkshire county high schoolers and one Simon’s Rock student. Assembling a student jazz band and giving them the opportunity to perform with jazz masters is a primary function of, producers of the Pittsfield CityJazz Festival. The ensemble featured half a dozen wonderful soloists, and at least one double-threat, Jacqueline Doucette of Pittsfield HS, who stepped out from the sax section to sing two songs with more grace and verve than you’d think was available to a teenager.

Youth Ensemble music director Ron Lively of PHS told the audience that he put together the mostly Ellington set because the Duke had been mentor to Dave, and so the number chosen to link the learners to the legend was Take the A Train, with PHS pianist Samuel Landes and Brubeck taking turns at the piano, an 1894 Hamburg Steinway Concert Grand, which this concert’s underwriter, Jim Chervenak, gave to the Colonial in memory of his wife Françoise Nunnallé.

The video clip begins at rehearsal and ends with the concert performance. We’ll add more text and video in the coming days. There is more video at


2009 Pittsfield CityJazz Festival opening concert

Pittsfield, MA Oct. 7, 2009 – The 5th Pittsfield CityJazz Festival opened with a performance at the Berkshire Athenaeum by blood drum spirit, led by percussionist royal hartigan, and featuring bassist Wes Brown, saxophonist David Bindman, and pianist Art Hirahara. The group is dedicated to performing original compositions and improvisations connected to world music traditions.

Get the full festival schedule here: This is a video montage from tonight’s performance:


2009 A Prairie Home Companion at Tanglewood review

June 29, 2009 Tanglewood concert review by

How ’bout that Garrison Keillor, ladies and gentlemen, ain’t he something – signs you up for two hours of entertainment, then goes and delivers three! To the two hour live broadcast of A Prairie Home Companion, in the Koussevitsky Music Shed at Tanglewood, he appended a twenty minute pre-show and a forty minute after-show that included audience sing-alongs, duets with Heather Masse, and thrilling encore performances by guests Steve Martin with The Steep Canyon Rangers and hometown favorite Arlo Guthrie. (re: Arlo)

This was the tenth time he’s brought the 35 year old show to Tanglewood, and it keeps getting better. Arlo Guthrie, whose Thanksgiving garbage caper took place just down the road 42 years ago, was an unannounced guest; Keillor said he’ll be back next year so they can talk “Berkshire history.” Early afternoon showers had cleared by the time we arrived around 5PM and mother nature delivered a splendid tableau for the festivities. Maybe jealous at being upstaged by the lanky Minnesotan, midway through the show she delivered a steady drizzle that sparkled through bright sunshine to about one-third of the Lawnsters outside the Shed. Keillor asked Guthrie if that was typical Berkshires weather? “Oh yeah, it’s been like that for weeks.”

Actor Martin Sheen was the show’s non-musical guest, delighting the audience in the role of a prickly wi-fi hog at Arlo’s Dew Drop Inn. Sheen and family were seen around Stockbridge throughout the weekend, at Mass on Sunday and then greeting fans on the porch at the Red Lion Inn.

Keillor, Martin, and Guthrie are pretty good talkers

Even though all the music and comedy performed today was as good as it gets, this show is especially memorable because it displayed the powerful beauty of the spoken word; for the satisfying feeling of community that can arise from the plain speaking of artists whose medium is language.

Besides all their other talents, Keillor, Martin, and Guthrie are talking adepts, which raises all the connecting patter of show to the level of the performance. We’re envious, wishing we could summarize more smartly than by declaring that the tenth Tanglewood rendition of A Prairie Home Companion was a titillating picnic of linguistic penache, verbal verve, and jocular jello.

re: Arlo: You may be interested in : Arlo Guthrie concert reviews, photos, and an interview.


James Taylor’s One Man Band DVD concert Pittsfield, MA, July 19, 2007

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What’s in a name? Hints, contradictions, teases… James Taylor’s “One Man Band” Show is but a handy approximation, while Pittsfield’s Colonial Theatre is so opulent “Imperial” would be a more-fitting moniker. Now, the two will forever be linked because Taylor rented the Colonial and brought in Sydney Pollack and Don Mischer to produce a DVD around two nights of sold-out concerts July 19 and 20, 2007.

We’ll surmise that Taylor aims with his current tour name to convey the image of a street musician wielding an ungainly musical contraption, such as he could’ve seen during his “magical” year in London while recording his first album for Apple Records there in 1968.

He told the audience at the Colonial how he came to the attention of producer Peter Asher and then became the first artist signed by Paul McCartney and George Harrison to record on the Beatles new record label – and of having plenty of time on the street while the Beatles were involved in “marathon recording sessions” for their White Album.

After opening the show with “Something in The Way She Moves,” Taylor said it was “not the first, but the first presentable” song that he wrote (while a teenager, going steady with neighbor Phoebe Sheldon). “Songwriting is what I do,” was one of the straightest things he said all night.

James Taylor One Man Band at Colonial Theatre, soundboard, Pittsfield, Mass.But this show is evidence of another vocation, monologist. He has a real gift for that as he interspersed a full concert set of 20 songs with a narrative that spanned the half-dozen decades of his life. Some of the narrative has a more serious feel to it, although couched with humor, as when he talks about his father and mother; more is sweet, poignant – like how he came to write “Sweet Baby James.” Then there are the stories of the songs that aren’t family-related, which are out and out stand-up comedy material.

“Line ‘Em Up” for example, a song born of President Nixon’s resignation and the mass Moonie marriage in Madison Square Garden, which he introduces to hilarious effect, the narrative illustrated by a slideshow projected onto a large wood-framed screen.

And this is where his declared vocation is manifest, in the ability to transform public events and characters into songs that not only satisfy his own need for expression but also entertain and stimulate an audience.

James Taylor One Man Band at Colonial Theatre Pittsfield, Mass.Today, of course, the wiley street musician is a cat with an Apple laptop from which can emanate not just the sounds of the busker, but the blues of the Hammond organ, or even the soaring harmonies of the Tanglewood Festival Chorus!

All of which were present in this show: Taylor is accompanied by Larry Goldings on piano, keyboards, and harmonium and, from his laptop computer, Taylor projects onto the screen recordings of sixteen members of the T.F.C. (including his wife Kim) accompanying him on “My Traveling Star” and “Shower the People.”

Then there’s the musical contraption, rolled out from the wings for two numbers tonight, a big, boxy Rube Goldberg-like drum machine. Taylor said that the idea to put together a “stripped-down version” of his show came to him about a year and a half ago, but we had an inkling something like it was coming after his 2002 Tanglewood performance with the Boston Pops, where he debuted songs from “October Road” accompanied by Goldings and guitarist John Pizzarelli.

The boldest number tonight was the rap song Taylor sang through a bullhorn to the irresistible rhythm of the drum machine; sure, it was funny, but it was good and affecting too, and we’d like more. Just as a whole ‘nuther side of James Taylor emerges when he straps on the electric guitar to wail and strut on “Steamroller,” the drum machine (and bullhorn) seem to give access to yet another aspect of this marvelously gifted and generous performer.


James Taylor and Chris Cuomo video – Stockbridge, MA

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In this video clip, James Taylor comes onto the porch of the Red Lion Inn, Stockbridge, MA and gets ready for his performance on Good Morning America, and Chris Cuomo chats with the audience and wonders why he had not been told about BerkShares.

Reviews of James Taylor concerts at Tanglewood and the Colonial Theatre, Pittsfield:

Video clips of James Taylor and Yo Yo MA on Good Morning America’s live broadcast from the Red Lion Inn, Stockbridge, Sept. 15, 2008


James Taylor and Yo Yo Ma video – Sweet Baby James

For more about James Taylor, please see our review of the big surprise 60th birthday celebration that was embedded into the July 4, 2008 James Taylor and his Band of Legends concert at Tanglewood.

Reviews of James Taylor concerts at Tanglewood and the Colonial Theatre, Pittsfield:

Video clips of James Taylor and Yo Yo MA on Good Morning America’s live broadcast from the Red Lion Inn, Stockbridge, Sept. 15, 2008


James Taylor video – Shower the People

For more about James Taylor, please see our review of the big surprise 60th birthday celebration that was embedded into the July 4, 2008 James Taylor and his Band of Legends concert at Tanglewood.

Reviews of James Taylor concerts at Tanglewood and the Colonial Theatre, Pittsfield:

Video clips of James Taylor and Yo Yo MA on Good Morning America’s live broadcast from the Red Lion Inn, Stockbridge, Sept. 15, 2008


James Taylor video – Wichita Lineman

Reviews of James Taylor concerts at Tanglewood and the Colonial Theatre, Pittsfield:

Video clips of James Taylor and Yo Yo MA on Good Morning America’s live broadcast from the Red Lion Inn, Stockbridge, Sept. 15, 2008


James Taylor video – welcoming Diane Sawyer and GMA crew

For his Sept. 15, 2008 guest appearance on ABC TV’s Good Morning America, James Taylor assembled his Band of Legends to perform on the porch of the Red Lion Inn on Main St. in Stockbridge, MA. Oh, yeah, his neighbor and pal Yo Yo Ma was there, too, and the two of them delighted the audience with a lovely rendition of Sweet Baby James.

Reviews of James Taylor concerts at Tanglewood and the Colonial Theatre, Pittsfield:

Video clips of James Taylor and Yo Yo MA on Good Morning America’s live broadcast from the Red Lion Inn, Stockbridge, Sept. 15, 2008


Bob Dylan concert review – Pittsfield, MA August 26, 2006

Aug. 26, 2006; concert review by

Bob Dylan Show poster Wahconah Park PittsfieldBob Dylan delivered as even and as excellent a show as you could imagine Saturday night at Wahconah Park in Pittsfield, MA; it felt like this was a big deal for him rather than another run through a list of old songs in front of a mass of faceless people in another nameless town. It was a remarkable performance of a predictable setlist; he’s done so many shows that I’m sure this list was predicted by someone’s software program.

Here’s how it broke down chronologically: middle, early, recent, early, early, recent, early, early, early, recent, early, recent, early, early.

Mr. Dylan’s voice rang clear over a rocking rendition of “Cat’s in the Well,” getting the show off to a fast start at 9:00, setting a tight, energized tone that would carry throughout the hour and three quarters show. Following a day off, the band were playing their tenth show in two weeks on this leg of the Never-EndingTour – they were in perfect sync, seeming eager to do the jobs they’ve got so much time, talent, and soul invested in.

No need for me to rank this lineup among the various ones I’ve seen dating back to 1975, here’s what Dylan himself told Rolling Stone about them last week: “This is the best band I’ve ever been in, I’ve ever had, man for man. When you play with guys a hundred times a year, you know what you can and can’t do, what they’re good at, whether you want ’em there.”

In the same interview, he decried the state of music recording in these modern times, which thinking may account for the inclusion in tonight’s setlist of two songs that came out of his 1967 Big Pink jam sessions in nearby Saugerties, NY with the Hawks (soon to be renamed The Band), “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere,” in the second spot, and, in the the eleventh, “I Shall Be Released.”

The former could serve as a template for the whole set: really clear vocals from Dylan, his keyboard fairly high in the mix, and a solid harmonica coda (which, coincidentally, brought the huge diamond ring on his left hand to everybody’s attention), and notably tasty pedal steel licks from Donny Herron, as every song had at least one star turn from the band.

Herron and guitarist Denny Freeman each had several, always augmented by the brilliance of the rhythm section. There were exciting elements to the arrangements throughout. For instance, the fourth number, “Just Like a Woman,” opened with something of a duet between Herron’s pedal steel and Dylan’s organ and closed with Herron echoing Dylan’s harp. In between were sweet, sublime solos by Freeman and the audience’s filling the gaps left by Dylan for them to sing “just like a woman” before he did.

Vocal highlights included “Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum,” which sounded way better than we’d heard before. We may have been too quick to dismiss it earlier because of the silly name and its surface cartoonishness, but upon further reflection, it may be on a par with the mid-60s’ ballads in terms of substance, only that went unrecognized because his later song writing style is spare where it once was florid. Anyway, Dylan sang it with relish, the band played it with flair, and now I’m wondering what Christopher Ricks thinks about it!

The soloing Freeman did on the next song, “Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again,” was apparently a highlight for Dylan because it had him wiggling his eyebrows and waggling his tail, simple gestures that become hilarious when done by this most stoical performer. A very cool reading of “Million Miles” came next, sounding more like the official recorded version than any song on the set list.

Having called the setlist predictable earlier, we ought note now that that doesn’t imply inferior, because any setlist that has “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” and “Desolation Row” back to back is a good one. And what a great time to lay those gems side by side, with truly rejeuvenating and re-revealing arrangements inspired by how charged-up Dylan is these days and having these cats in his band.

The setup for “Don’t Think Twice…” was semi-acoustic, with Tony Garnier laying down a hypnotic, pulsing beat on the double bass over which Freeman and Dylan interwove juiced-up melodic lines against which the lyric bounced. (There were times tonight when Dylan’s keyboard emerged from the mix just enough to remind one of Al Kooper.) The song ended with a hot solo by Freeman giving way to a cool one on harp by Dylan.

Best rendition of Desolation Row

The arrangement of “Desolation Row” was simply spectacular – it was a sound ballet. There was luscious acoustic work between Garnier and Freeman, laying down swinging, jazzy lines and then doubling them. Geroge Recile was all over his drum kit, making thunder and great brassy noise. And Herron pinned down every phrase of Dylan’s with hot rivets of electric mandolin; a wicked cool effect.

By now these guys have got it all going on, they’re deep in a glorious groove, loosed from the bonds of gravity. Eight songs down and six to go. Dylan had a blast singing “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight;” a purely playful number, a delightful interlude before the freighted “Cold Irons Bound,” another one off Time Out of Mind. Tonight it had a crazy feel to it, dictated by Recile who crafted a beat that sounded somewhat martial and/or reminiscent of a score from an old detective movie.

We’d been listening to Time Out of Mind alot lately and are coming to think that it merits placement in the upper echelon of Dylan albums, alongside Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited, Blonde on Blonde, and Blood on theTracks. It differs from those in its literary sensibility and is less complex musically, but it is so audibly affable that frequent listening starts to reveal subtle profundities – and isn’t that what we’re in search of, after all?

The other Big Pink number “I Shall Be Released,” notable for the interplay between Freeman and Herron, set the stage for the set closing “Summer Days,” which first we loved and then grew tired of, and tonight got a whole new appreciation for, as it was done, as everything tonight was done, in Watermelon Sugar.

The stage went dark for a couple minutes before Dylan and his Band returned for the first encore, “Like A Rolling Stone,” a great celebratory rave-up that featured Herron’s steel guitar riffs sounding like Al Kooper’s Hammond B3 on the original recording.

Dylan then responded to the riotous applause with “Thank yahhh, I’d like to introduce my band …”

The show ended with “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35;” despite a longtime predilection for a variety of stoning substances, this has always been among my least favorite songs, but, tonight – you guessed it…totally fuggin awesome!

Everybody just got goofy, including Dylan, who had Recile cracking up on L.A.R.S. and who, himself, was cracking up on the closer, doing his little boogie-in-place and exhorting the fans on the rail. A swell night it was in Wahconah Park.

August 26, 2006 setlist: All song lyrics available on:

1. Cat’s in the Well (Under the Red Sky, 1990)
2. You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere (1967, First release: Greatest Hits Vol. 2, 1971)
3. Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum (Love and Theft, 2001)
4. Just Like A Woman (Blonde on Blonde,1966)
5. Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again (Blonde on Blonde,1966
6. Million Miles (Time Out Of Mind, 1997)
7. Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right (The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan,1963)
8. Desolation Row (Highway 61 Revisited, 1965)
9. I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight (John Wesley Harding,1967)
10. Cold Irons Bound (Time Out Of Mind, 1997)
11. I Shall Be Released (1967, First release: Greatest Hits Vol. 2, 1971)
12. Summer Days (Love and Theft ’01)
13. Like A Rolling Stone (Highway 61 Revisited 1965)
14. Rainy Day Women #12 & 35 (Blonde on Blonde,1966)